Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #18

Dear Mr. Cusick,

First, congratulations on your publishing success!  I love that your writing inspirations included both classical and modern influences.  My inspirations were similar as I folded history into a contemporary story.  ENCIRCLED is a 97,000-word YA Contemporary Fantasy, where a dash of magic and a love deeper than darkness put a new twist on the historical mystery of the disappearance of two English princes.

Sixteen-year-old Elisabeth Bell Pierce is hiding her broken heart and disfigured face at Bell Hall, the crumbling English castle she inherited when her mom died.  While her father, a fanatical historian, excavates the grounds to unravel the ancient mystery of the Lost Princes, Elisabeth searches the gloomy corridors for relief from her heart's perpetual darkness.  But when she discovers a secret passageway that leads deep beneath the castle, Elisabeth learns she isn't the only person hiding at Bell Hall, and that darkness itself may be her best chance at relief from her scarred past.

Bewitched to live in endless night until his stolen kingdom is restored, Richard of York, Lost Prince of England, is still faithfully awaiting a rescue that's never come--until now.  In their shadowy haven, Elisabeth's scars and Richard's tragic past fade, and together, they remember what it is to be alive.  But as her father digs closer to unearthing England's greatest secret, Elisabeth must find a way to hide Richard forever, before her father reveals him to the world--because not everything that's lost wants to be found.  

I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Utah with degrees in English Literature and Theatre.  My love affair with British history began in the seventh grade, when I stole my social studies textbook for some light summer reading, and got hooked on kings, castles, and betrayal. 

I have included my first page below, and would be happy to send more upon request.  Thank you for your time and consideration.



The smell of hot metal and the tang of blood were overwhelming.  My labored breath was harsh in the crushed space.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  I focused on the tempo against the too-still dark.  A small sound joined in.  Plink.  Plink.  Plink.  In-Plink-Out-Plink.  I tried to slow my racing pulse to its time.  In-Plink-Out-Plink.  But each throbbing beat pounded in my head, where a torturous pressure was mounting.  I pushed the wet tangle of hair from my face and twisted, but couldn't right myself: I was upside-down.  I craned my head to the right, a slow motion trip to hell.  My breath caught in my throat and its comforting rhythm died.  I licked my lips and tried to find my voice, but found my hand first, and pushed at the quiet form next to me, my seat belt catching and straining to keep me still.

"Momma," I croaked out in the barest whisper, the night shattering into pieces around me.  She didn't answer.  I found her hand and held it in mine.  I thought it twitched a bit.  Just a bit, but I felt it.  A thin beam of moonlight broke through the window and flitted over her haunted face.  Her fingers whispered over mine, and then her eyes opened--the grey-brown irises wide against pain and darkness.  Her lips moved soundlessly and a dull roar started in my head, the scream of blood and fear.  And then her hand went still.  A tear rolled to the tip of my nose and clung on for dear life, frozen.  I stared into my mother's empty eyes and wished to be somewhere, anywhere but here. 

And then I was gone.


Author Amok said...

The opening paragraphs drew me into the story. In your query, I like how you set up the conflict between Elisabeth and her father.

Molly Shaffer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Molly Shaffer said...

I didn't like the word choice I used for the last comment. It seemed a bit superfluous. That being said, I love the concept of your novel. I feel rewording the first sentence of your query can be beneficial. I always like starting with a pitch, but that's my own style of query.

Stacey Trombley said...

I really like the query and concept, and the paragraph about your love of kings, castles and betrayal. That was a very clever, relatable way to say you love to research your subject (definitely important).

The one thing I'm unsure of, is if this is a historical, where the character literally finds the current lost prince or if it's a modern story and she finds...I'm not sure exactly, a ghost? After a reread I see it says he's bewitched and the "contemporary" implies modern day, so I'm guessing that's the case but it wasn't clear to me on the first read. "hiding her disfigured face at Bell Hall" sounds very historical, so maybe try to put a little perspective on the story. Hiding from the nasty looks at her old high school? Or something like that.

Other than that bit of confusion, I like the query. I like the concept. Sounds like lots of fun. But now lets go to the first page...

First, I think you start in the wrong place. It's really hard to get into a story when we don't really know what's going on. The character is scared but we have no idea why (yet) and because we don't know the character, it's hard to care (not to sound harsh, we just can't relate to someone we don't know yet)Starting later in the story then having the character have some panic attacks while remember this horrific moment would work better than it is now, I think (just as an example) You're better off starting when she moves into the house which seems like the real start of the story. The incident with her mother (which I still have no idea what happened) is backstory.

But, just as a hint for future reference, or if you decide to ignore my advice (which you can do of course), I suggest breaking up those paragraphs. Having her breathes and the "plink plink" as a new paragraph would add a little more intensity. Right now its one big chunk of text which isn't very appealing to a reader, especially at the very start of a book.

I do think this is really cool so hopefully my very long comment isn't off-putting. Hope it helped!

Jessi Esparza said...

The concept is very interesting and unique. Right off the bat, the setting draws me right in!

I liked the query, however, you might want to rethink the genre. Firstly, Contemporary is typically just Contemporary, and not mixed with other genres. Since there is some sort of magical element happening, your novel is Fantasy, and not Contemporary. This is just what I've heard.

Also, you state that it is a historical mystery but really the only character trying to solve a mystery is Elisabeth's father, who comes off as the antagonist in the query. If anything, this is a fantasy romance. Neither Elisabeth nor Richard are trying to seek out any answers about why he is still hidden in the castle. Their goal is to stay together despite the odds being stacked against them.

I don't know if you need to explain in your query that you fell in love with history in the seventh grade. You want to keep queries fairly concise without losing too much. Although it's a nice sentence, the focus of a biography is more to promote yourself as someone capable of writing this novel. Since you have a degree in Theatre, perhaps you worked with Shakespearean plays, and can talk about how because of those experiences with those works, you have a greater understanding of the time period and English history.

Moving onto your first page. The initial scene is a bit disorienting. While that is the narrator's state of mind, it's very hard for the reader to engage with, since all we feel is confused, up until she mentions "seat belt". Then we start to see the picture. It was mentioned above that you could break up the first paragraph, which I think would help. It would slow the pacing down a bit, and allow the reader to absorb what's happening.

Overall, very good! I hope you find this helpful and that it didn't sound too harsh. This is a very cool idea, and could be a really interesting novel.

Kristine Poptanich said...

I love your addition of stealing your social science book. I feel like it will be that thing that will jog an agent's memory about your submission if you run into him or her at a conference or the like. Good luck - I know your love of the subject is going to serve you well!

Veronica Bartles said...

I think your concept is a very interesting one, but I think your query could be streamlined to make the stakes of your story more prominent. I've heard, as a general rule, that it's best if your query fits all within one screen shot, so the agent doesn't have to scroll down when reading your query. (Not a set-in-stone rule, to be sure, but it's a good exercise in streamlining, if you keep a guideline like that in mind to help you pare down the unnecessary parts.)

As written, I have a difficult time pinpointing these characters and the time frame for your story. For instance, why is Elisabeth's heart broken and her face disfigured? Was it the result of an accident? (Maybe the accident that killed Mom?) Or was she born with some kind of disfigurement that has perhaps nothing (or maybe everything) to do with her broken heart? Are these details key to the conflict? If not, you don't really need them here. If so, you may need to be more specific.

I love the tagline "Not everything that's lost wants to be found." I could picture that on the front cover of your finished book, but honestly it doesn't do much for your query. It keeps the conflict too vague, and I'm still not sure why I should care about Elisabeth and Richard - or even why he has to stay lost, when he's waited for so long to be found.

I think, if you streamlined and tightened your focus, you could really draw us in, because the concept is very intriguing. Good luck! <3

Reverie said...

I'm intrigued by the story of the lost prince of York however I do get a little lost as to when and where this takes place. I suggest you clarify better in query and sample.

Reverie said...

I'm intrigued by the story of the lost prince of York however I do get a little lost as to when and where this takes place. I suggest you clarify better in query and sample.

Jennifer Park said...

This story really grabbed me; definitely sounds like something I would love to read!
As for your query, I have heard mixed things about labeling a ms as Contemporary Fantasy. Maybe go with fantasy and stress in the query that it does take place in modern times.
You could state in the query that it was a car accident that disfigured her, that might lead in to the first 250 better. And let us know she is in a car sooner. I found myself speeding through trying to figure out where she was and what was happening. (which is good!)
This is a very intriguing story concept!

Making Trax said...

Thanks for all of your comments -- they all address pretty much what I've been struggling with in all of my (many) drafts of this query. Back to work! :o)

J.P. said...

The description of your book in your query is beautifully written and compelling. I want to know what happens...

John C. said...

I am such a sucker for historicals of any tint, so this query really drew me in. I did find myself going back to reread passages, however, as I'm not quite clear on a few basic elements in your synopsis.

In what time period does Elizabeth live? I assume her story takes place in modern times, however inheriting a castle sounds like something that might happen in another era, rather than today. Perhaps make this clear from the get go?

What, exactly, broke Elizabeth's heart and scarred her face? I assume this has to do with her mother's death, but I wasn't sure, which I think the reader needs to be in order to understand who she is and what she's hiding from.

I wasn't quite clear on what "endless night" refers to. Is it a literal night, or is Richard bewitched to remain locked in the (caverns? dungeon? halls?) beneath the castle? You say he's awaiting "rescue," but this word choice is confusing, given that what he's waiting for is the return of his stolen kingdom.

Or is he? Elizabeth wants him to remain hidden forever-- is this what Richard wants as well, or does he desire the escape being unearthed by Elizabeth's father seems to promise? The relationship between the curse, the status of Richard's kingdom, and Elizabeth's father's investigations and their consequences is unclear.

This query suggests a character-driven historical fantasy romance, which is exciting! But the central conflict, to me, is obscured. We need to know in certain terms what Elizabeth wants and what is threatening her success.